Portrait photography – Trust and Confidence

“It is only when the photographer shows that he knows at once what to do under the circumstances with which he is surrounded, that the client begins to feel that confidence which allows them to put full trust in his effort, and bend to his desires without opposition.”

The Photographic News, London 1870


When I found this quote, I was surprised to see this very true statement being published at a time, when photography was in its early childhood. In my opinion the message is still valid today. A portrait with an artistic quality is not just a documentation of a face, not just a phyisical image. A good portrait attracts the attention oft the viewer and at best, it also tells a story.

Getting there is a challenge, which needs to be mastered by the photographer and not the clientl. It is his responsibility.

First of all the photographer needs to be totally familiar with his equipment and the environment. He does not have time thinking about too many technical aspects, while doing the shooting. He must totally focus on the client and put almost all his attention on guiding the client into the desired scene.

But there is a problem.


A photographic portrait is a picture of someonewho knows he is being photographed

Richard Avedon, 1993


The great Richard Avedon, makes it very clear in his above statement. There is a bias originating from the situation of being photographed. For most people this creates a tension and results in behaviors and facial expressions, leading to unfavorable results.

Only when there is enough trust and comfort, a situation can emerge, where the client behaves in an authentic way, shows true feelings and the expressions are real. This is what a professional portrait photographer needs to strive for. There are many ways getting there. Every person is different and it is up to the photographer to explore different approaches, enabling this state. With a big portion of empathy as a base and a lot of practice this can be achieved. But it is more a personal journey and even after fourty years of experience, I am still unsure if it ever can be developed to perfection.

Coming back to the initial statement, one thing is clear. It has not changed over the decades and it will not change. Trust and confidence is the basis of a good portrait photo session.